The Gaza ceasefire plan is in balance. US says Hamas proposes ‘changes’

Image source, Getty Images

Comment on the photo, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken spoke after discussing Hamas’ response with the Prime Minister of Qatar in Doha

  • author, Tom Bateman
  • Role, BBC Foreign Office correspondent
  • Report from Doha

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Hamas that “it is time to stop bargaining,” after its leaders proposed “several changes” to the Gaza ceasefire plan and hostage release agreement.

He told reporters in Doha that some changes are “viable” and others are not, but that the United States and mediators Qatar and Egypt “will try to complete this agreement.”

Hamas said on Tuesday that it was ready to “deal positively” with the operation, but stressed the need for Israel to agree to a permanent ceasefire and complete withdrawal from Gaza.

The Israeli government did not comment, but an unnamed official said that the Palestinian armed group’s response amounted to rejection.

The Israeli Prime Minister has not yet publicly supported the proposal that US President Joe Biden said Israel had offered when he presented it 12 days ago.

But Blinken said Benjamin Netanyahu “reaffirmed his commitment” during a meeting in Jerusalem on Monday.

The UN Security Council also passed a resolution supporting the proposal that day, increasing diplomatic pressure from Washington.

There were hugs and smiles when Blinken met Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.

His country is a major player in this crisis, as it hosted the political offices of Hamas for more than a decade and served as a channel for negotiations with Israel.

Blinken appeared angry when he said in a joint press conference that they were discussing the changes requested by Hamas to the ceasefire proposal supported by the United States.

“There was an agreement on the table that was almost identical to the proposal put forward by Hamas on May 6, which is the agreement that the whole world supports, and Israel accepted, and Hamas could have answered with one word: ‘Yes.’” he said.

“Instead, Hamas waited nearly two weeks and then proposed further changes, a number of which go beyond the positions it had previously taken and accepted. As a result, the war that Hamas started… will continue, more people will suffer, and more Palestinians will suffer.” They will suffer, and more Israelis will suffer.”

Blinken did not clarify what changes he said Hamas was demanding, nor did a brief statement issued by the movement itself on Tuesday evening.

However, the statement reiterated the demand for what Hamas called “a complete cessation of the ongoing aggression against Gaza” and the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces.

Izzat Al-Rishq, a member of the Hamas political bureau, said that the response was “responsible, serious and positive” and that it opened a “broad path” to reaching an agreement.

The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office did not issue an official response.

In a later statement on Wednesday, reported by Reuters news agency, Hamas said it had shown “complete positivity” in its efforts to reach an agreement, adding that it had urged Blinken to put “direct pressure” on Israel.

Despite the setbacks, Blinken said the United States, along with Qatar and Egypt, “will try to complete this deal.”

“I believe that these gaps can be closed. But that does not mean that they will be closed, because in the end, Hamas has to decide.”

Sheikh Mohammed said that both Hamas and Israel need to make some concessions.

He pointed out, “We are witnessing a shift in this conflict in the recent period, and there is a clear and firm call to end this war.”

Mr Blinken also said it was essential to make plans for the “day after the conflict” in Gaza as soon as possible in order to achieve a permanent end to the war.

He added: “In the coming weeks, we will put forward proposals on the main elements of the Day After Day plan, including concrete ideas on how to manage governance, security and reconstruction.”

Comment on the photo, Today, Tuesday, the Israeli occupation forces launched air strikes on the central Gaza Strip

The Israeli military launched a campaign in Gaza to destroy Hamas in response to an unprecedented attack on southern Israel on October 7, during which some 1,200 people were killed and 251 others were taken hostage.

The agreement reached in November saw Hamas release 105 hostages in exchange for a week-long ceasefire and about 240 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons. Israel says 116 hostages are still being held, 41 of whom are presumed dead.

The first involves an initial six-week ceasefire, during which Hamas would release some hostages—including women, the elderly, the sick, and the wounded—in exchange for Israel releasing an unspecified number of Palestinian prisoners. There will also be a withdrawal of Israeli forces “from all populated areas of Gaza” and an “increase” in humanitarian aid.

The second phase will see the release of all remaining living hostages and the withdrawal of all Israeli forces from Gaza as part of a “permanent cessation of hostilities”, but the latter will remain subject to further negotiations.

During the third phase, the remains of any dead hostages will be returned and a major reconstruction plan will begin in Gaza.

While the White House is in fact trying to push the two sides toward an agreement, the Israeli leadership remains deeply skeptical about the matter.

The far-right ministers are pressuring Netanyahu to ignore Washington’s diplomacy and have threatened to withdraw from his ruling coalition and cause its collapse if the US-backed proposal goes ahead, considering it a surrender to Hamas.

The Prime Minister did not unequivocally express his support for the plan, which he acknowledged had been approved by the War Cabinet.

The actual Israeli proposal — which is said to be longer than Biden’s summary — has not been made public and it is unclear whether it differs from what the president conveyed. It was presented to Hamas days before Biden’s speech.

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